Last month, Sonya Christian, the Kern Community College District (KCCD) chancellor, was selected as the first woman and first person of South Asian descent to lead the nation’s largest system of higher education — California’s system of 116 community colleges.
“Dr. Christian is one of our nation’s most dynamic college leaders, with a demonstrated record of collaboration and results in the Central Valley,” said Governor Gavin Newsom. “She understands what is needed to deliver on record levels of higher education investment to make real improvements to the lived reality of our students. I look forward to continuing to partner with Dr. Christian to ensure our community colleges are engines of equity and opportunity.”
For over 30 years, Christian has engaged in policies and practices related to state and national completion, quality, and equity agendas. In July 2021, Christian was named the sixth chancellor of the Kern Community College District, where she implemented a call to action with a focus on advancing student success and closing achievement and equity gaps.
When Christian begins her duties on June 1, she will be taking over a college system that suffered dramatic enrollment declines during the pandemic, losing about 300,000 students. In addition to working to recover those enrollments, she’ll also be tasked with helping the colleges meet ambitious goals set by Governor Gavin Newsom to increase the number of students who earn degrees, certificates, and credentials and who transfer to the state’s four-year universities.
“I am honored to be selected to lead the most important system of higher education in the country and grateful to the Board of Governors for their confidence,” Christian said. “We continue to face many challenges, but I truly believe our greatest challenges enable us to do our greatest work. We are called to design the most vibrant, resilient, and effective learning environment ever. We are called to do this work at scale, not eventually, but now. And we will work with a shared vision that keeps students first.”
According to a press release sent by the California Community Colleges, Christian spearheaded a statewide coalition in 2015 that led to securing philanthropic funding for the 20-college Guided Pathways demonstration project in California, leading to a $150M state investment in Guided Pathways and broad adoption of the framework throughout the college system.
While at Kern Community College District, Christian led the charge to strengthen organizational effectiveness to better serve students, faculty, and staff.
“I’m delighted that Dr. Sonya Christian, a distinguished academic leader and a champion for California students, has been named the next chancellor of the California Community Colleges,’’ the University of California President Michael V. Drake said in a press release. “For decades, our institutions have collaborated to help students prepare academically, to smooth the transfer path to a four-year institution, and to ensure that students thrive throughout their educational journeys. I am proud that a third of UC undergraduates come from community colleges and that the University of California enrolls more community college students than any institution of its caliber in the nation. I look forward to forging an even stronger partnership as Dr. Christian assumes her role and to advocating together for California’s world-class public higher education system.”
According to an EdSource article, Christian’s selection as chancellor satisfies the hope of many of the system’s stakeholders who wanted the next chancellor to be someone with experience leading one of the state’s 73 local districts. With about 36,000 students, Kern enrolled the sixth most students in those districts last fall.
“On behalf of the entire California State University community, I congratulate Dr. Sonya Christian on her appointment as the California Community Colleges’ next chancellor,” said Jolene Koester, interim chancellor of the California State University. “Dr. Christian is an equity-centered leader who understands that increasing access to education and workforce development transforms lives, families, communities, and the state. She is an innovator with a long and impressive track record of expanding opportunities for California’s students. I invite and welcome Dr. Christian’s partnership in collaboratively advancing our shared goals for student success.”